October 23rd, 2013
[I found an old photo of Kateri and her beloved pet Speckly on my computer recently and posted it on Facebook. Seeing it made a friend recall and request this old column of mine about the two of them. So here it is.]
It finally happened. I was dreading this day. Speckly is dead.
For those who didn’t have the pleasure of meeting her while she was alive, I should explain that Speckly was a Speckled Sussex hen. That’s right, a chicken. A charming, mottled brown and white feathered hen with an affinity for grasshoppers and Japanese beetles. And at 5 years old, she was a quintessential old biddy.
Years ago, when Dan and I decided to let the kids raise a flock of laying hens, we never could have anticipated the antics and attachments that would follow. We’ve combated carnivorous creatures from foxes to raccoons. We’ve encountered swooping owls and sharp-eyed hawks. We’ve had rowdy roosters that loved the children but would have gladly eaten me for lunch. We’ve had Houdini hens who kept us devising ever more elaborate systems of cooping and containment. We’ve had the high drama of nursing ailing chickens back to good health, one medicine dropper at a time.
And we’ve had fun. Lots of it. We’ve had the pleasure of pampering the “ladies” with cool bubble baths on hot summer days, the thrill of treating the flock to cake and ice cream on high feast days, the joy of giving hens rides in sleds, wagons, and bicycle baskets, and the excitement of hatching baby chicks from eggs and watching them grow … into a new generation of raucous roosters and happy hens.
The coop has seen many birds come and go through the years, but none were as important to my oldest daughter as her beloved pet Speckly. Speckly was Kateri’s very first pet. The first animal she called her own and named all by herself. The first animal she loved.
Of course we knew this day was coming. When the kids called to me this afternoon with shouts about the hen’s demise, I dreaded the task that lay ahead. I walked to the coop in sober silence, opened the door to a nest box, and found the old bird. Her feathers were ruffled and dirty. Her eyes were closed. When I lifted her into a bag, her body was stiff and heavy. As I carried the hen across our field, several children followed at my heels. We stopped at an appropriate gravesite and I cut into the soft earth with a shovel.
Dust to dust. This was just a chicken, I thought to myself as I dug. Just a chicken. But one look at my daughter’s swollen eyes told me there was more to it than that.
Worse than any pain we might experience ourselves are the sorrows we parents must watch our children suffer. We want to protect these small souls. And yet we want them to love — to embrace every good thing with all their tiny hearts — and to love means to risk the pain of loss.
All were quiet as I turned over the soil. I paused and let Eamon help with the digging while somber Stephen stood alongside, his eyes squinting in the late day sun.
When the burial was complete, I suggested a prayer.
“Thank you God,” I began.
And then what I wanted to say was: Thank you for the foretaste of heavenly joy you give us through even your smallest creatures. Thank you for helping us to understand that to love means to risk getting hurt, but that it’s worth loving anyway. Thank you for the gift of free will, so that we might choose to love you, a choice that will never cause us pain or sorrow. Thank you for the reminder that we all must die one day and that we should live this life with the next in mind. Thank you for the gift of eternal life, for loving us unworthy humans so perfectly that you were willing to die on a cross in order to win us victory over pain, death, and sin forever.
But I choked on those words. I couldn’t say them. And yet, somehow, as my children’s small hands pressed the soil down upon that grave, as they fixed a handmade cross of sticks and string upon that mound of fresh earth, I think they understood these words as clearly as if I had said them. Sometimes the most important lessons we learn are ones that go unspoken.
“Thank you, God,” was all I managed to say.
And my children, with unwavering voices, answered, “Amen.”
October 20th, 2013
My high school physics class never made much sense to me. In fact, there is only one thing I learned in that class that still sticks with me after all these years–the idea of entropy or the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Systems tend to go from a state of order to a state of maximum disorder.
Finally. After endless pages of meaningless numbers and symbols and equations, here at last was something that actually made some sense. In fact, the truth of this law has only become more evident to me in the years since high school. A house containing small children is one of the clearest examples of entropy you could ever hope to find.
Toy boxes overflow. Kids’ closets don’t stay organized. The ability of my kitchen counters to collect and grow junk never ceases to amaze me, and once a week, when I give my bathroom a thorough cleaning, I am astounded by the fact that–once again–it really, really needs it. Left to their own devices, messes multiply: Toys scatter, juice spills, and dirt accumulates. If I don’t constantly work at returning things to a state of order, the house will always end in a state of maximum disorder.
It occurred to me recently that this same principle of entropy applies to our spiritual lives as well as the physical state of the universe. If we don’t work continually at improving ourselves and making advances in our prayer lives, we drift all too easily in the opposite direction, toward chaos. Small faults and neglects, if not attended to, eventually lead us into bigger sins, and then still larger ones follow from those. So, the tendency of our homes and our children toward disorder is a healthy reminder. Choose carefully: By work or by neglect, we are all moving in one direction or the other.
October 17th, 2013
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October 16th, 2013
Well, I’ve been reading homeschooling articles again. Homeschool Blindspots by Reb Bradley was a recent one that made me think, and bookmark, and then go back and read again. Mostly because it made me uncomfortable. Which could be a good thing. We all need to be challenged sometimes.
But then, I am not sure I can take any more challenging right now. I’m pretty tired.
I’m tired of being second-guessed and being encouraged to second-guess myself. I’m tired of feeling defensive of the fact that we homeschool because of the assumptions other people — even the homeschoolers — make about us based on that label alone. And though it’s been years since I was young and arrogant enough to believe I had this parenting thing all figured out, I am tired of being warned about all the ways that, despite my good intentions and exhaustive efforts, I am very likely failing.
Nobody ever sold me homeschooling as a panacea for worldly temptations and sin. From almost the very beginning — no, scratch that, truly from the very beginning — I have seen its flaws and weaknesses and shortcomings all too clearly. They haunted me. They still do.
I am tired of the “Ah-Ha’s” and the “See, I told you so’s” I hear from all corners of the internet, and even in my own head sometimes, when the inevitable happens and older kids from even those “very good homeschooling families” fall into sin, or reject their parents’ values, or mess up and rebel in typical teenager-ish ways.
But mostly, I am just tired. Tired from late nights and early mornings. Tired from the mash-up of draining demands of big kids and little kids and middle kids times eight, with a home, marriage, and job thrown in for good measure.
So tired that I tear up when I read Bradley’s description of how he and his wife regret putting discipline and outward appearances before love in their own family, despite the fact that I know these failures have little to do with homeschooling. The blind spots described here are not homeschooling blind spots; they’re human ones. We’re all blind. We all judge when we shouldn’t, make selfish and prideful decisions, fall down in our faith, and fail at love.
We all get tired.
But God doesn’t throw our children into our arms and tell us, “Hey, good luck with these! You’re all they’ve got!”
We are not all they’ve got. Thank you God for that.
Tonight, after re-reading about blind spots, I made my tired way into the kitchen where I found a greasy mess from dinner that moved me almost as close to tears as the blind spots did. I grabbed a sponge and began scrubbing the stovetop. While I scrubbed, my oldest returned home from an evening out with friends and filled my ears with cheerful descriptions of the events of her day.
Tired or not, in that moment there, I had strength enough to clean a stovetop, one greasy spot at a time, and give attention to my happy daughter.
I don’t have enough love for a lifetime. Not even close. God doesn’t give me all the grace I need for a great big lifetime in this great big family all at once. He knows I would waste it. He gives me love enough, and grace enough, for right here, right now, one greasy little spot at a time.
I’m tired, but I am filled.
October 1st, 2013
(beginning today at an internet near you)
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And you can even win a free copy of the book to get you started, five little minutes at a time.
The Small Steps Blog Tour begins today, with the awesome Lisa Schmidt at the Practicing Catholic. Thank you, Lisa!
The rest of the tour is scheduled as follows:
October 2 – Rachel Balducci at Testosterhome
October 3 – Ginny Sheller at Small Things
October 4 – Barb Szyszkiewicz at Franciscan Mom
October 5 – Grace Snow at Uncommon Grace
October 6 – Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things
October 7 – Pat Gohn at The Back Porch
October 8 – Ginny Moyer at Random Acts of Momness
October 9 – Christine Johnson at Domestic Vocation
October 10 – Martina Kreitzer at Catholic Sistas
October 11 – Simcha Fisher at I Have to Sit Down
October 12 – Elizabeth Scalia at The Anchoress
I want to thank our lovely blog hostesses and the very nice folks at CatholicMom.com for organizing this whole tour and being so darned encouraging and supportive as we work to get word out about Small Steps for Catholic Moms. I hope you will participate in the tour, enter to win (multiple ways, multiple days!), and begin your journey toward a closer relationship with Christ … one small step at a time.
August 19th, 2013
I am so happy to see this popular book back in print and available for pre-order:
Small Steps for Catholic Moms: Your Daily Call to Think, Pray, and Act.
Since its original publication years ago, moms of all ages and stages of life have told me how much they have enjoyed and *needed* this book as a support in their daily prayer lives. That makes my co-author Elizabeth Foss and me very happy because that is exactly why we wrote it.
We know that a mother’s days are unpredictable and time for sit-down prayer can be sporadic, but we also know that every mother needs a daily connection and a real relationship with her Creator. We were made for Him, and we will be restless until we rest in Him.
Big changes happen with small steps.
This book is designed to be imminently do-able, even for moms in their very busiest seasons of life. Just “think” “pray” and “act,” in one page a day, and you will find yourself growing stronger in virtue and closer to Our Lord.
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Small Steps for Catholic Moms: Your Daily Call to Think, Pray, and Act.
August 17th, 2013
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March 6th, 2013
Through a series of fortunate events, Ambrose recently upgraded to an iPod Touch and his younger brother Stephen inherited the ancient artifact known as his former iPod nano. Win, win!
But these boys do not enjoy the same listening privileges, and so this morning I was tasked with approving the songs that were on the 14-year-old’s device for 11-year-old listening. Bob Marley, okay. Cars soundtrack, okay. Usher … well, I don’t know.
“He doesn’t need that,” Dan told me on the phone when I asked his opinion. “Just take it off.”
When I told Stephen this news, he did not argue, but he did mention that the song in question was one of his favorites and he was disappointed to lose it. To educate myself, I looked up the lyrics and for good measure, opened the video on YouTube so that I could hear the song as I read the words.
I didn’t need to do that, though. Because upon hearing the music, 6-year-old Daniel immediately appeared at my side. And he was singing every single word of the lyrics from memory. With finger-pointing, microphone-miming, and hip-shaking.
But if I stop then just know that imma bring it back,
Never quittin’ on believin’ that.
“Oooooh, I LOVE that song!” Gabby called from the next room.
And then the final words seemed especially fitting.
Gonna push it to the limit, give it more.
I give up. No, I don’t. But I’m not winning this thing.